Vatican City – The meeting in New York between the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, indicates that the diplomatic path and the indefinite dialogue with Putin – although it may “stink” (the copyright belongs to Pope Francis) – is the only possible way to prevent the situation from escalating. On the eve of the referendum on the annexation of Donbass and the Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson region announced by Putin, the specter of the use of unconventional weapons or even nuclear weapons is a hypothesis that is becoming more concrete and terrifying. Even a few days ago Pope Francis – not surprisingly – begged not to do “madness”.
What the cardinal and the Russian minister said to the UN has not been leaked and no details have been provided. It is significant that the news of their meeting was given directly by the Moscow Foreign Ministry through Telegram channels. A meeting that comes after a hypothesis of mediation advanced by Mexico, in collaboration with the Pope and the secretary general of the United Nations, Guterrez, was ditched from Kiev.
The last time Lavrov had a long conversation with Parolin dates back to the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. While diplomacy was already struggling conspicuously, Lavrov had explained to the Vatican what Moscow’s position was regarding the “military operation”, making it aware of the causes and objectives of the Russians. It was Parolin, at the time, who gave a summary account of that dramatic telephone call: «He said that the aim is to guarantee the security of Russia, that everything that has happened in recent years would have endangered the security of the country. Here, this was the phone call. ‘
At the UN headquarters, the speech that Pope Francis’ main collaborator prepared and read in front of the Assembly relied on the lack of dialogue and on a stalemate that could lead to the use of the atomic bomb. The implicit reference is to the Russian arsenal, the most powerful in the world. “With global tensions escalating and rhetoric threatening the use of nuclear weapons, it is more crucial than ever to get the Total Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force.”
Parolin called the CTBT «a vital component of the nuclear disarmament regime. The Holy See deplores any resumption of the tests and invites all States to maintain adherence to the zero-yield moratorium ”. Hence the encouragement to all states to make an effort.
Lavrov at the United Nations has as always defended the motivations behind the war, accusing Ukraine of russophobia and neo-Nazism. “We have no doubts that Ukraine has become a totalitarian state like the Nazi one”, recalling that in Ukraine Russian TV channels have been “closed”, Russian books “destroyed” and the Russian language has been “removed” from school programs .
In this context, according to analysts, it is very unlikely that Chinese President Xi Jinping – although irritated by the turn the war is taking – will turn his face to Vladimir Putin with whom he maintains solid relations of collaboration. The Russian leader’s decision to send thousands more troops to Ukraine and his nuclear threats, however, was at the center of a very tough meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, last week. On Thursday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart Lavrov on the sidelines of the General Assembly that China would stick to an “objective and fair” position. Xi and Putin have become closer and closer in recent years, linked by mutual distrust of the West, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. But China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
Kiev, meanwhile, has asked the United Nations to establish a special tribunal to punish Russia for the invasion, and to deprive it of the right of veto, at the Security Council, in the meantime convened to discuss the atrocities committed in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, a referendum that will last a few days will begin tomorrow in the Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine. A passage that will not obtain any international recognition, let alone be accepted by the Kiev authorities, but which Moscow intends to use as a formal instrument to declare the formal union of these territories with the Russian Federation. Voters will be asked whether or not to approve the secession from Ukraine, the creation of a state and its accession. Once this passage has been ratified, a new phase of war in Ukraine could be taken for granted for Moscow.
In this context, the conversation between Parolin and Lavrov could have served to inform the Pope about what Putin intends to do next, without prejudice to the humanitarian assurances of which the Holy See is always the bearer. In the hope of finding glimmers of dialogue.